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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2010.

Casino di Villa Mattei sul Monte Celio (Book 10) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C10) (Rione Campitelli)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Villa Mattei and its Obelisk
 Valle delle Camene and S. Maria in Tempulo

The Plate (No. 196)

This 1761 view of Villa Mattei by Giuseppe Vasi is almost identical to a view which Giovanni Battista Falda engraved a century earlier; perhaps Vasi "copied" the view by Falda because at his time the villa was already suffering from a lack of maintenance; a few years later, in 1770, Giuseppe Mattei sold the majority of the ancient statues which decorated the gardens and the casino.
The view is taken from the secret garden which was located at a lower level than the small casino; in this way Falda and after him Vasi made the casino look larger by showing the walls which supported it. The main entrance to the Villa was located at the other end of the garden, near S. Maria in Domnica. The green dot in the small 1748 map shows the point from which the view was taken. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Main entrance to the Villa; 2) S. Maria in Domnica; 3) Obelisk; 4) Steps leading to the lower part of the gardens. The map shows also 5) Valle delle Camene. 1) and 2) are shown in other pages.


The view in September 2008: (left) from the former secret garden; (right) from the main entrance

The view shown in the plate is today impaired by trees which have been planted in the former secret garden, a section of which is today included in a private property. The casino was significantly enlarged and modified during the XIXth century. In 1925 Villa Mattei was acquired by the City of Rome and in 1928 its gardens were opened to the public; the casino houses SocietÓ Geografica Italiana and its rich library on Italian explorations of the Horn of Africa.

Villa Mattei and its Obelisk

(left) 1650 entrance; (right) Loggia Mattei on the Palatine

The Mattei belonged to a Roman family which is recorded from the end of the XIIIth century; they had houses in Trastevere and during the XVIth century the Mattei di Giove, a branch of the family, built several palaces in Rione Sant'Angelo; in 1581 Ciriaco Mattei di Giove commissioned Giacomo del Duca the design of a small casino on a property he had bought on the Celio hill; for this reason Villa Mattei is today best known as Villa Celimontana (on the Mons Caelius). The gardens of Villa Mattei were enlarged in 1650 by Girolamo Mattei who opened a second entrance opposite SS. Giovanni e Paolo; the Mattei had another villa on the Palatine, of which only a small loggia survives.

Views of the obelisk which was located in the amphitheatre

In 1564 the Mattei financed the restoration and embellishment of the portals of S. Maria in Aracoeli where they had their family chapel; perhaps this is the main reason why in 1582 the Senate of Rome presented Ciriaco Mattei with a small Egyptian obelisk which stood at the foot of the long staircase leading to that church.
The obelisk is very small; its hieroglyphs make reference to Pharaoh Ramses II; it was brought from Heliopolis to Rome to decorate a Temple to Isis.
During the XVIth century (and until very recently) it was thought that the ancient Circus Flaminius was located between Rione Pigna and Rione Sant'Angelo where the Mattei had their palaces; Ciriaco Mattei decided to use the small obelisk to recreate the ancient circus at his villa; because it was too small, the obelisk was placed on a tapered granite stone.
The original design of the amphitheatre (as the reproduction of Circus Flaminius was called) was modified in the XIXth century and the obelisk was relocated to an isolated section of the gardens; after a very long period of neglect during which the obelisk was hidden by scaffoldings, in October 2009 its restoration was completed; it is now very easy to distinguish the original obelisk from the supporting stone (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).

The grotto

The villas of the ancient Romans had a facility where the host and his guests spent the hottest hours of the day, i.e. a grotto, an artificial cave with a fountain which was often embellished with roughly cut statues. In 2012 a lengthy and careful restoration of the grotto of Villa Mattei was completed. It is located in the lower gardens.

(left) Fontana dell'Aquila attributed to Bernini - etching by Francesco Venturino; (right-above) Fontana del Tritone attributed to Bernini - etching by Francesco Venturino; (right-below) Fontana del Fiume

Villa Mattei had many fountains, two of which were perhaps designed by Bernini, but we know of them only through descriptions and etchings because the gardens were modified several times during the XIXth century when baroque fountains were regarded as a sign of bad taste; Fontana del Fiume is the only fountain which has survived.

(left) Ancient column and capital; (centre) ancient statue on an altar; (right) an ancient sarcophagus and an inscription

The gardens od today's Villa Mattei are embellished with ancient statues, columns, capitals, sarcophagi and inscriptions, but very few of them belong to the original decoration of the villa.

Views from Villa Mattei: (left) bell tower of SS. Giovanni e Paolo; (centre) arch of Aqua Claudia; (right) S. Stefano Rotondo

Valle delle Camene

View of Valle delle Camene from S. Balbina: 1) bell tower of SS. Giovanni e Paolo; 2) Villa Mattei

Villa Mattei included most of the valley between the Celio and the Aventine hills. It was the site of a little wood with a spring where Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, used to meet Egeria, one of the Camenae, four nymphs who protected the springs (another location named after Egeria is along Via Appia Pignatelli).

(left) Monastero di S. Maria in Tempulo; (centre) taking a photo of the newly-weds; (right) an ancient statue in the hall used for civil marriages

A small medieval nunnery with a church was built near the spring and most likely above an ancient Roman temple; in the XIIIth century the nuns were moved to S. Sisto Vecchio; the church was abandoned and it was eventually turned into a hayloft inside Villa Mattei. Today the building belongs to the City of Rome and it is used for the celebration of civil marriages.
To learn more about Valle delle Camene click here.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Villa Mattei
L' ingresso principale di questa celebre delizia retta a destra della suddetta chiesa di santa Maria in Domnica, e fu eretta con magnificenza dal Duca Ciriaco Mattei circa l'anno 1572. nella nella quale sono colonne, statue, busti, e teste di sommo pregio; ed ancora un obelisco egizio drizzato in mezzo ad un delizioso prato disposto in forma degli antichi Circi, nel quale fra le altre antichitÓ, che vi sono, Ŕ notabile un'urna con le nove Muse lavorate di tutto rilievo; e fra i divertimenti, che vi si fanno, succede che nel giovedý grasso d'ogni anno con sommo applauso, e concorso fin di sei mila persone, si fa la visita delle sette chiese, e qui con canti, e suoni fanno la refezione, data loro da' Preti della Congregazione dell'Oratorio di s. Filippo Neri.

Next plate in Book 10: Orti Farnesiani sul Monte Palatino
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Spedali di S.Giovanni in Laterano
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Chiesa di S. Gregorio al Celio